New Delhi: The political crisis in Zimbabwe and the outcry of Western nations against President Robert Mugabe notwithstanding, India is unwilling to censure its old ally.
Mugabe, 84, ignored international criticism and went ahead with a one-man run-off election that handed him another term in office last month. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the election less than a week before the vote, citing violence against his supporters.
Under pressure: This 30 June photo shows Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe leaving the 11th ordinary session of the assembly of the African Union heads of state and government in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (Photograph by Nasser Nasser / AP)
“India’s old relationship with Robert Mugabe is standing in the way of India saying anything,” said Ruchita Beri, Africa scholar at the New Delhi-based Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis. “For that matter, there are so many conflicts taking place in Africa, including those over democracy, but India has never spoken openly.”
The fact that Mugabe was a key figure in Zimbabwe’s freedom struggle, and made common cause with leaders such as former prime minister Indira Gandhi, makes it that much more difficult for India to criticize his refusal to allow free and fair elections to take place in Zimbabwe, she said.
India’s foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon told reporters last week that India was “looking to the African Union on the Zimbabwe crisis and would follow its lead”. “India does not interfere in the internal affairs of another country,” he said at that time.
Although minister of state for external affairs Anand Sharma attended the African Union summit at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt a fortnight ago, where he met 23 African foreign ministers, he declined any comment on whether Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years, should make way for the first free and fair elections at home.
Beri, however, pointed out that India may soon have to rethink its attitude, including its dependence on the African Union. “The African Union itself is a divided house, with Kenya, Liberia and Botswana calling for democratic reform within Africa. How long can India continue to sit on the fence?” she asked.
In fact, the India-Africa summit declaration in the capital in April has a full section on “civil society and good governance” in Africa, indicating the world’s largest democracy would like to see African dictatorships transform themselves. However, foreign office officials say India would never lecture the Africans, but ask other African leaders to privately broker a compromise.
India’s “deliberate go-slow” on Zimbabwe was also a reflection of the “double standards” on the part of many Western nations, said an Indian diplomat who declined to be named given the sensitivity of the issue.
He, however, admitted that India’s new-found zeal to get cracking on its strategic partnership with the US may also have something to do with the go-slow on Zimbabwe. “India is balancing the nay-sayers on its new pro-West policies with its silence on Zimbabwe.”
“Will the US and Britain make the same comments about Kenya, or even Pakistan?” the diplomat asked, adding, “India is not China, and that cuts both ways”.
Zimbabwe is rich in minerals such as granite, marble and copper but with inflation currently running at nearly 2 million per cent in that country, Indian industry is shy of making any big investments there.
“The lack of stability in Zimbabwe is a very large factor,” said Shipra Tripathi, the Africa pointperson for industry body Confederation of Indian Industry. “There is no pressure on the government from business because they are waiting for the chaos to settle before they can tap the potential.”
Russia and China on Friday vetoed a resolution backed by Western nations to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe at the UN Security Council. Considering China has been a major supplier of armaments to Zimbabwe that include armoured vehicles and fighter jets, and Russia’s recent riches from its oil exports is encouraging it to flex its muscles against the West, India’s cautious policy is not only a reflection of its low economic stakes or a hangover of the past, but also a careful assessment of China’s role in the region.
While a large number of African leaders agree with South African President Thabo Mbeki that talks between Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and opposition leader Tsvangirai is the only answer, a large number of African leaders such as Liberia’s Ellen Sirleaf, Kenya’s foreign minister Moses Wetangula, and Sierra Leone’s foreign minister Zainab Bangura have publicly spoken up against Mugabe.
Equally, there are voices such as Congo’s foreign ministry spokesman Kamanga Mutond who has said that “President Mugabe was accepted by his peers... so he is legitimate”.
US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice has called for strong international action against the Mugabe government. “Frankly, it makes sense to deny the government of Zimbabwe the means to use violence against its own people,” she said.